Legislature let e-cigarette law go up in smoke

March 18, 2014 02:07 pm

On the one hand, the Legislature did the right thing by not getting too ambitious during its abbreviated session that ran for five weeks in February and early March. Lawmakers fine-tuned the state budget and dealt with other immediate issues, choosing to wait until the six-month session in 2015 to tackle more complicated bills.

There was an issue, however, that it seems could have been dealt with during the 2014 session: House Bill 4073, which would have banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

E-cigarettes are so new on the scene that they are virtually unregulated. Nothing in HB4073 would have prevented adults from buying and using e-cigarettes — it would simply have placed the same age restriction on them that is already in place for conventional cigarettes.

The new-fangled cigarettes use a battery-driven device to deliver vapor containing nicotine to the user. A wide variety of flavors are available for the e-cigarettes, allowing users to change the flavor pretty much whenever they choose.

There are plenty of people on both sides of the e-cigarette debate. Proponents argue that they are far less toxic than regular cigarettes, because they do not contain tar and many other harmful chemicals found in tobacco and the paper that is used to roll up the tobacco. They even argue that “vaping” can be used to help regular cigarette smokers kick the habit.

Opponents of the devices maintain that e-cigarettes will attract more people to “the habit.” They also say that, because of the many flavors available — ranging from fruit flavors, bubblegum, pina colada and many, many more — e-cigarettes may be more alluring to young people.

Regardless of these arguments on both sides, the one thing no one disputes is that e-cigarettes deliver a dose of nicotine to the user. Nicotine is the drug in cigarettes that makes them addictive. (It has often been said that it is nicotine that turns smokers into addicts, but it’s the tar that kills them.)

Adults should remain free to make their own decisions about whether to smoke or to “vape” (or to drink alcohol, for that matter). But it is difficult to understand why there would be any debate about whether a product with the prime function of delivering nicotine should be readily available to minors.

Letting HB4073 die during the 2014 legislative session was a mistake. The Legislature should act swiftly to correct this when it convenes in January.